It’s one of Leeds’ most iconic buildings yet it’s had more ups and downs than a fiddler’s elbow.
After years of committee meetings, consultations and recriminations over the future of the much-loved structure, Leeds City Council has finally announced redevelopment plans for Kirkgate Market, also known as Leeds City Markets.
A £12m budget will include provisions for roof repairs, improved lighting, a new roof in the ‘1976’ and ‘1981’ halls, better layout and signage and out-of-hours shopping. The currently unlovely shopfronts on George Street, opposite the Victoria Gate development, will also be given a much-needed facelift and a separate amount has been set aside to give outdoor traders a 20 per cent rent reduction.
Open six days a week, with 400 indoor and 200 outdoor stalls, there was an open air market on the site as early as 1822. The current structure, a huge ornate edifice with turrets and glass domes in the French Renaissance style, was begun in 1875 and takes up part of Vicar Lane and most of George Street and New York Street.
It was the birthplace of Marks & Spencer's Penny Bazaar in the 1880s and, despite taking a direct hit in 1941 during the Luftwaffe’s air raid on northern England and then suffering a devastating fire in 1975, remains the largest covered market in Europe.
As well as trusted market staples like fresh fish, poultry and meat, there’s been a gradual influx of overseas traders setting up Polish delicatessens, Moroccan street food stalls and Chinese and Nigerian supermarkets. An Asian Bazaar takes place every Wednesday morning, with a flea market on Thursdays and regular farmers’ markets in the outdoor section.
Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Ministry of Food continues to draw in the punters after nearly five years, offering cookery lessons at £4 a pop, and the shop-and-drop scheme, which allows shoppers to buy fresh produce in the morning and pick it up on the way home from work, has seen similar success.
But in recent years disgruntled traders have voiced concerns that a lack of investment and marketing coupled with high rents was leading to run-down facilities and empty stalls. Hopefully, this will now start to be redressed.
Councillor Richard Lewis, executive member for development and economy, said however, that there was no room for the council to rest on its laurels.
“We’re proposing a major investment in an iconic listed building with significant local importance attached to it, so it’s vital that we get this right. This is a very complex project.”
In the coming months it will be interesting to see if they live up to those ideals.